Comedians Jerry Seinfeld, John Cleese and Chris Rock have all said they feel political correctness (PC) is killing comedy—a sentiment not every comic shares.
Comics in Salt Lake City are reading between the jokes and using political correctness as a way to receive feedback and make their comedy funnier.
“With PC, I feel people are more willing to let you know what they think, especially online,” said Spencer King, a stand-up comedian who’s performed in Salt Lake City for more than 12 years. “I feel comics got away with more stuff because people didn’t have as many ways to communicate how they felt.”
King said he feels political correctness doesn’t have negative effects on comedy.
“I used to talk about depression a lot in my act,” he said. “When I first started [writing about depression], it wasn’t received as well as when I learned to approach it—and from what angle. Once I got that down, the jokes started working.”
Not everyone interprets criticism like King does.
“When you have someone saying that certain words or ideas are wrong, then comedians have a tendency to push back—given their position,” said Salt Lake City-based comedian Sam D’Antuono.
According to King, most comedians receive feedback from jokes on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and exercise caution when presenting new jokes.
“Oh God, I would never put any of my developing work out there on YouTube or Twitter,” said Max Boehme, a comedian from Salt Lake City. “You’re going to piss someone off with new material, so it’s best to keep new stuff low-key.”
King said feedback is crucial when he’s writing humor and needs to find out what works with his audience and what doesn’t.
“I’ve heard funny jokes about every subject, and I think it’s because the comedian takes the time to test it out,” King said. “The method of delivery is important.”
King said he carefully tests his comedic material at places like open-mic nights, which allow new and veteran comedians to safely experiment with developing material among other comedians.
Carl Merrill, an emerging Salt Lake comedian, said she sees problems when comics feel they simultaneously need to establish themselves and grab attention.
“Nothing in comedy is off limits, but at the same time it doesn’t mean your words don’t have consequences,” Merrill said. “It’s our job to make light of dark things, but you have to consider your words.”
King said striking the balance between taking comedy too far is a fine line.
“I don’t think any topic is off limits,” King said. “But if you’re going to be joking about something, you’d better have a really good point—and not just for the sake of being funny.”